I remember having conversations about real estate prices 7 or 8 years ago, particularly on the West Coast. “How can prices keep rising and where does all the money come from to buy these properties?” A house I sold in 1997 resold in 2005 for four times what I sold it for! I am not an economist, but something didn’t seem right to me about this kind of never-ending upward spiral. My ex-wife sells homes and told me people were getting into million dollar properties with little or no down payment. Even so, I couldn’t afford to buy into most of the residential areas that I would want to live in. As a result, I lived on a boat which, while pricey, was a whole lot more affordable than a condo in the same town where the boat was moored.
We’re reading about the bubble bursting, the credit crisis and the coming recession as if they are news. What did everyone expect? I hope they do go after the greedy ringleaders who hyped worthless ‘derivatives’ and then went to their cronies to give AAA ratings to support the fantasy. The problem is there are so many of these Ivy League crooks that they’ll have to build a new prison in Cape Cod to hold them all. After they prosecute the investment bankers and other Wall Street scum, they should go after the regulators who were probably watching the value of their own homes skyrocket as well. Finally, they should also put the rest of us away for ‘criminal naiveté’ (a.k.a. – stupidity), since without our complicity the rest of it would probably not have happened. Now we get to watch the real trouble begin as the time approaches to pay the piper for all the other irresponsible lending and borrowing that has been fueling the American (and global) dream for past decades. Unfortunately, the ‘dream’ is about to become a nightmare for an awful lot of people.
When I was in college in the 1960s, a report was released by the Club of Rome called “Limits to Growth”. It tried to use computer modeling to demonstrate that there are physical limits on how much we can grow. The report got some notoriety and spawned a lot of what is now ‘the environmental movement’, but it was mostly disavowed as too alarmist and negative. Besides, science always comes through—necessity is the mother of invention.
I don’t know about the models they used and distrust most models anyway, but it seems obvious to me that the central premise of capitalism is that it is possible to have never-ending growth. If this assumption is wrong, then the whole world is sucking on thin air because, sooner or later, it will no longer be viable. In the case of what we’re witnessing today, the time may be sooner rather than later. I know this isn’t politic, but hey, we cannot grow forever! We can debate where the bottom is (or the top), but as long as we live in a material and finite universe we will have to play by its rules.
Now before we wring our hands in despair and flush ourselves down the Cartesian crapper, we might consider what is the alternative to economic growth as the primary purpose of life? One possibility is that we learn to grow in other dimensions. Those who’ve lived in Eastern cultures can attest that in the absence of material prosperity, the spiritual paths can offer comfort and purpose. Another possibility is that some catastrophe reduces our population by a few billion souls. This “Malthusian” imperative is preferred by most of those that ‘have’ on the assumption that those that will leave are the ‘have nots’. This premise remains to be tested.
I am touting a scenario that states that most of the world’s intractable problems—perhaps all of them—are at their source philosophical problems. The world is in a paradigmatic pickle in which we can’t get there from here and all of the available options are not sustainable, not desirable or not workable. In short, we need to invent a new reality. To do so requires we reinvent what it means to be a human being. We aren’t going to change the world in a sustainable way if we don’t change ourselves.
A place to begin I suggest is with the question “What don’t you have enough of?” Make a list and see what you want more of. You may see that we live and act in a context of scarcity—not enough time, not enough money, not enough friends, not enough health, not enough love, not enough fun, and so forth. At the same time, we can see that we have more than enough of everything we don’t want—crime, greed, stress, fear, taxes and so forth.
The possibility of creating a different reality begins when we can really and truly ‘choose what we have’—when we reach a point of profound acceptance of ‘the way it is’, we can begin to develop a different relationship with our circumstances, ourselves and other people, and even with time.